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A Motif Analysis by Rebekah Dickson

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1 A Motif Analysis by Rebekah Dickson
Birds A Motif Analysis by Rebekah Dickson

2 “Hark! Peace! It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman, Which gives the stern’st good-night. He is about it…” (Act 2 Scene 2 Lines 2-4) Considering her murderous actions, Lady Macbeth, in this quote sets and eerie mood through diction and imagery. Knowing from the previous scene that Macbeth is on his way to murder King Duncan, readers are also allowed into Lady Macbeth’s point-of-view as she anxiously awaits her husband after the deed. While waiting, Lady Macbeth hears an owl shrieking in the night, calling him the “fatal bellman” (or sign of Duncan’s execution) and alluding to the audience that the deed is done. The use, here, of the owl as a malevolent symbol of death is one that is carried on throughout the play as one of the many motifs Shakespeare uses to add structure to his work.

3 “’Tis unnatural, Even like the deed that’s done
“’Tis unnatural, Even like the deed that’s done. On Tuesday last A falcon, tow’ring in her pride of place, Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed.” (Act 2 Scene 4 Lines ) In this scene, the nobles have just found Duncan, murdered, and have placed the blame on his framed-servants who were in his chambers with him. The speaker, an old man we are told is Ross’s father, tells Ross off three unnatural events that Shakespeare writes as symbols and foreshadowing tools. The first of which, is the story of how a falcon, a majestic and powerful predator of the day, was killed by a mousing owl- a nocturnal (and thus dark) bird that is unknown and not feared by anything but small rodents. This story is used to symbolize the abnormality of Macbeth, a predacious, yet dark, man not nearly as well respected as the king, killing the majestic, powerful, revered Duncan and assuming his “pride of place.”

4 “Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond Which keeps me pale
“Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond Which keeps me pale! Light thickens, and the crow Makes wing to th’ rooky wood. Good things of day being to droop and drowse, Whiles night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.” (Act 3 Scene 2 Lines 49-53) Referring to the three men he has just sent to murder his former friend, Banquo, Macbeth uses the motifs of birds and darkness and light in his conversation with his wife to create a dark, maniacal mood for the closing of this scene. Using crows, a scavenging, dark, disliked species of bird that was often a harbinger of evil and death, Macbeth tells of the “good things of day” fading away, darkness taking over, and “night’s black agents” (crows) hunting. Shakespeare’s association of Macbeth with menacing species of birds further develops Macbeth’s evolution from protagonist to villain.

5 “Wisdom! To leave his wife, to leave his babies, His mansion, and his titles, in a place From whence himself does fly? He loves us not: He wants the unnatural touch: The poor wren, The most diminutive of birds, will fight, Her young ones in her nest, against the owl.” (Act 4 Scene 2 Lines 6-11) Returning again to his connection between Macbeth and the considered-evil owl, Shakespeare again foreshadows with the use of analogy in Lady Macduff’s quote. Here, while calling her husband a coward and questioning his motives for fleeing Scotland, Lady Macduff foretells her own death. Drawing a comparison between the Macduffs and wrens, which are small, defenseless birds, Shakespeare ingeniously adds a dramatic gravity to their murder by the malicious owl, Macbeth, while still allowing the scene to naturally build its action and gravity. In the murder scene itself, none but Macduff’s son are seen being killed and his final words are for his mother to run, dramatically. This detail could not be added if Shakespeare had been forced to construct the setting and tone on his own. Through the use of this foreshadowing, the audience knows that Macduff’s wife and children are innocent and have been left vulnerable to Macbeth’s insatiable wrath and immoral measures.

6 “He has no children. All my pretty ones. Did you say all. O hell-kite
“He has no children. All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam? At one fell swoop?” (Act 4 Scene 3 Lines ) Here, Macduff has just discovered the death of his entire family at the hands of Macbeth. Comparing Macbeth to a hell-kite, the evilest of all birds used by Shakespeare, and his children to chickens, innocent, common birds, Macduff displays the gravity of his grief and denial and Macbeth’s complete emergence as the villain. Macduff will later take this grief and use it as his drive to kill Macbeth and avenge his family.

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